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In the midst of an eight-game winning streak, the New York Knicks continue to exceed expectations. Where is their ceiling this year?

Danny Small

Every time we think the New York Knicks have plateaued, they take another unexpected leap. After beating the Hawks in overtime on Wednesday, the Knicks are now in sole possession of fourth place in the Eastern Conference.

Early on, they were more competitive than people expected. Soon, the Knicks looked like they had a legitimate chance at the play-in tournament. Now? They are in control of their own destiny when it comes to home-court advantage in a first-round playoff series.

There can be no debate about it—the Knicks are the biggest surprise of the 2020-21 season.

Julius Randle and Tom Thibodeau are the driving forces behind New York’s upward mobility. Randle went from an offseason question mark to an All-Star in the blink of an eye.

During this eight-game winning streak, Randle is averaging 30.0 points, 9.0 rebounds, and 6.9 assists while shooting 42.1% from three. He is firmly in the conversation for an All-NBA spot and there might be some MVP buzz coming his way if the Knicks finish the year out strong.

Randle might as well dust off some space in the trophy cabinet for his Most Improved Player award. That one is already locked up.

Thibodeau has gone from a “Hey, people should at least mention him” guy to a serious candidate for Coach of the Year. Historically, voters have given preference to coaches whose teams have a winning percentage over .600, but this isn’t a normal season and Thibs is one of the most well-respected coaches in the league.

For what it’s worth, Doc Rivers was the last coach to win with a winning percentage below .600. His 1999-00 Magic finished the year 41-41.

But as both Randle and Thibodeau would say, team accomplishments come first. Both guys understand that the individual accolades will come if the Knicks are winning.

“As far as all the other stuff, I say winning takes care of that,” Randle told reporters after shootaround on Tuesday. “Everybody gets recognized on a higher level when we’re winning so we just got to keep winning. That’s really what we’re focused on as a team.”

So, how much winning can this team do?

Where is the Ceiling for the Knicks?

The answer to this question keeps changing, but let’s take a stab at it anyway. The fourth seed in the Eastern Conference is the highest the Knicks will go in the regular season. The Milwaukee Bucks hold a five-game lead in the loss column and New York only has 12 games left to make up that ground.

If the Knicks can hold onto the four seed (or even snag the five seed), they have a legitimate chance at winning a playoff series for the first time since 2013. New York is battling for this 4/5 series with four other teams—the Hawks, Celtics, Heat, and Hornets.

Thibs would have to love his team’s chances in a seven-game series against any of those teams. Again, holding onto home-court advantage is huge.

Unfortunately, even with all the good feelings in Madison Square Garden right now, it’s hard to envision the Knicks going any further than the Eastern Conference Semifinals. The Sixers and Bucks both have depth, continuity, and perhaps most importantly, playoff experience.

The Nets, while lacking in chemistry and continuity, simply have so much top-end talent that they would eventually overwhelm New York in a seven-game series. That’s if Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving are all healthy.

With all that said, every time we set a bar for the Knicks they fly by it. If the Knicks somehow manage to defy expectations again and go on a deep playoff run, feel free to come back and ridicule yours truly.